Marks and Remarks
Food for the Mind and Eye

No. 0144, October 30, 2017


  Biology vs. Culture

     "Suspicious Symmetry"

Copyright 2017 by S.W. Paul Wyszkowski

     One of the hazards of being human is that it usually entails having a gender. Most humans are assigned one of two main psycho-biologically differentiated genders that have evolved as part of the mechanism for preservation of the human species. Why that was necessary and whether this is the best way to do it, I do not propose to discuss here. As things stand, humanity is split into two distinct sub-species: mostly feminine women and mostly masculine men, femininity being characterized by a yielding and dependent nature and masculinity by physical strength and aggressive behavior. These characteristics are rooted in the original division of labor, women being biologically consigned to child bearing and rearing duties and men having to take on the role of protectors and providers.

     That original division of labor between genders is now in question. There is a growing recognition that being human trumps being male or female, and that all humans, regardless of gender, have a right to equal treatment and opportunity in all aspects of social life. But the behavior patterns ingrained over millennia are not easily reformed. Currently, women are still distinctly at a disadvantage as the "weaker sex" and often find themselves at the mercy of macho men.

     It doesn't help that with a gender based reproduction scheme both women and men in their sexually active years tend to become obsessed with the mating game, typically going to great lengths to maximize their sex appeal by way of fashion, personal grooming, and behavior. So there is the inevitable, if frequently suppressed, unacknowledged or denied, sexual tension between men and women in virtually all their interactions. Segregation of sexes, once a practical solution, is no longer viable in view of the call for equal social and economic opportunities for all genders.

     Under the circumstances, balance of power determines what is sexual play and what sexual harassment. When both parties have equal power over one another it's play. When one is dominant, it is harassment, unless there is absolutely unquestionable mutual consent. It's a matter of having (but not necessarily using) a realistic option to say no and make it stick without fear of reprisal. Such power may come with social or economic privilege, or, in order to level any inequities of privilege, it may be granted to all by social contract or by law. Currently, in the United States, there are some (until recently rather toothless) laws intended to curb sexual predation though not gender inequality. The social contract is much iffier. We are clearly still in thrall to the cave man culture with as yet no credible prospect for a sea change any time soon, despite some brave beginnings.

     "Thank heaven for my prickles," says Prickles, our resident sociologist and certified female hedgehog. Hang in there, Prickles...